Typically these groups target European countries allied with the United
States in Iraq, as was proved by the Madrid bombings, the November 2003
attacks on British targets in Istanbul, as well as the lion's share of
some 30 spectacular terrorist plots that have failed since September 11.
In March 2004, within days of the London police chief's pronouncement that
a local terrorist attack was "inevitable," his officers
uncovered a plot involving nine British nationals of Pakistani origin and
seized the largest cache of potential bomb-making material since the
heyday of the Irish Republican Army. A few months later, Scotland Yard
charged eight second-generation South Asian immigrants, reportedly trained
in al Qaeda camps, with assembling a dirty bomb. Three of them had
reconnaissance plans showing the layout of financial institutions in three
Several hundred European militants -- including dozens of
second-generation Dutch immigrants "wrestling with their
identity," according to the Dutch intelligence service -- have also
struck out for Iraq's Sunni Triangle. In turn, western Europe serves as a
way station for mujahideen wounded in Iraq. The Iraq network belongs to an
extensive structure developed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, now formally bin
Laden's sworn ally and the "emir" of al Qaeda in Iraq. Recently
unsealed Spanish court documents suggest that at a meeting in Istanbul in
February 2002, Zarqawi, anticipating a protracted war in Iraq, began to
lay plans for a two-way underground railway to send European recruits to
Iraq and Middle Eastern recruiters, as well as illegal aliens, to Europe.
Zarqawi also activated sleeper cells established in European cities during
the Bosnian conflict.
A chief terrorism investigator in Milan, Armando Spataro, says that
"almost all European countries have been touched by [Iraq]
recruiting," including, improbably, Norway, Switzerland, Poland,
Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic. The recruitment methods of the Iraq
network, which procures weapons in Germany from Balkan gangs, parallels
those for the conflicts in Chechnya and Kashmir. Thanks to its
state-of-the-art document-forging industry, Italy has become a base for
dispatching volunteers. And Spain forms a trunk line with North Africa as
well as a staging area for attacks in "al Andalus," the
erstwhile Muslim Spanish caliphate.
Although for some Europeans the Madrid bombings were a watershed event
comparable to the September 11 attacks in the United States, these
Europeans form a minority, especially among politicians. Yet what
Americans perceive as European complacency is easy to fathom. The
September 11 attacks did not happen in Europe, and for a long time the
continent's experience with terrorism mainly took the form of car bombs
and booby-trapped trash cans. Terrorism is still seen as a crime problem,
not an occasion for war. Moreover, some European officials believe that
acquiescent policies toward the Middle East can offer protection. In fact,
while bin Laden has selectively attacked the United States' allies in the
Iraq war, he has offered a truce to those European states that have stayed
out of the conflict.
With a few exceptions, European authorities shrink from the relatively
stout legislative and security measures adopted in the United States. They
prefer criminal surveillance and traditional prosecutions to launching a
U.S.-style "war on terrorism" and mobilizing the military,
establishing detention centers, enhancing border security, requiring
machine-readable passports, expelling hate preachers, and lengthening
notoriously light sentences for convicted terrorists. Germany's failure to
convict conspirators in the September 11 attacks suggests that the
European public, outside of France and now perhaps the Netherlands, is not
ready for a war on terrorism.
Contrary to what many Americans concluded during Washington's dispute
with Paris in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, France is the exception
to general European complacency. Well before September 11, France had
deployed the most robust counterterrorism regime of any Western country.
Irish terrorism may have diverted British attention from jihad, as has
Basque terrorism in Spain, but Algerian terrorism worked the opposite
effect in France.
To prevent proselytizing among its mostly North African Muslim
community, during the 1990s the energetic French state denied asylum to
radical Islamists even while they were being welcomed by its neighbors.
Fearing, as Kepel puts it, that contagion would turn "the social
malaise felt by Muslims in the suburbs of major cities" into
extremism and terrorism, the French government cracked down on jihadists,
detaining suspects for as long as four days without charging them or
allowing them access to a lawyer. Today no place of worship is off limits
to the police in secular France. Hate speech is rewarded with a visit from
the police, blacklisting, and the prospect of deportation. These practices
are consistent with the strict Gallic assimilationist model that bars
religion from the public sphere (hence the headscarf dispute).
Contrast the French approach to the United Kingdom's separatist form of
multiculturalism, which offered radical Arab Islamists refuge and the
opportunity to preach openly, while stepping up surveillance of them.
French youth could still tune into jihadist messages on satellite
television and the Internet, but in the United Kingdom open radical
preaching spawned terrorist cells. Most of the rest of Europe adopted the
relaxed British approach, but with less surveillance.
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